One early Saturday morning in August 1996 I woke up earlier than I usually did. When you’re seven years old you only roll out of bed early on Saturday mornings in the summer for important things, and this Saturday may have changed the course of history forever in my life. That day my dad and I loaded up our family van and headed to this city that was, at the time to me, a faraway land called Indianapolis. That day we secured tickets to a NASCAR (then) Winston Cup Series race called the Brickyard 400.
|A photo of the 96 Brickyard 400 (Ed Sanseverino Photography)|
For years I had been watching NASCAR races on TV and listening to them on the radio when I couldn’t visibly see them. I was, by all accounts, a huge NASCAR fan. Living in Cincinnati was a problem for me though because most of the racing occurred in the southeast, way far away from my hometown. When NASCAR came to Indy for the third time in its history though, we scored tickets through a family friend.
Now my dad tried his darndest to get friends to go with him. No one could go. Most had other plans (and most were weddings of friends and family members) and had to decline. A week before the race my dad settled on the fact that he would tote me along and we would attend the race together.
Tickets were not cheap (if I recall correctly they were either $55 or $65 to sit in the turn three area where we ended up) so my mom and dad were worried about spending that kind of money on something I may not fully enjoy or sit through.
I’d say it was money well spent.
I remember very little about that day’s race. I know Dale Jarrett won, and after an early wreck Dale Earnhardt got out of his famed black No. 3 since he was injured a few weeks earlier in a wreck at Talladega. I know Mark Martin, my favorite racer, finished fourth and even led a few laps.
|This photo of me is from 2003, the earliest known photo I have of me at IMS|
I remember the drive up (and using a payphone at a gas station to dial the house of the family friend we were trying to find in a neighborhood by the speedway) and walking to the track. I remember seeing the flags atop the stands wave in the breeze, and I remember my dad lugging a small cooler with us to drink Coke and water during the race.
I remember eating at the house of the folks who hooked us up with tickets and the drive back to Cincinnati (where I fell asleep for most of the ride home).
Most of all I remember it being the start of my true NASCAR fandom which has manifested itself in so many more ways in the past 20 years. This year was our 16th trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400 (and if you include the day we drove up for the 1998 IROC race, our 17th journey to Speedway, Ind. for racing together). In 20 years my dad and I have seen just about everything on a race weekend.
|Landon Cassill with my dad this year|
I’ve gone from a fan to a media member, and we’ve gone from enjoying the weekend in the stands together to me running around pit road during the race, gathering photos and videos, while my dad hangs out in various stands and mounds in the infield, watching the action unfold in front of him.
I’ve written a number of posts through the years on how we have made this weekend an awesome one, and how I wish someday to make it a long-running family tradition (a fair note here is that every time I’ve written that it’s been a wistful thought to one day having a family. Since I’m getting married in the future it’s actually a little more real now). NASCAR and Indianapolis will forever be linked to me because of that one day 20 years ago.
I’ve changed a lot. My dad has changed a lot too. We’ve grown older and learned a lot more. Our conversations now hinge on work and “real life” stuff like taxes and marriage (like I said in the proposal blog I wrote—linked above—I took my dad to see the ring I was buying before we traveled to Indy last month).
Honestly, NASCAR has changed a lot too, and my impetus for posting this, beyond the fact that I had slated to write this as part of my Brickyard 400 coverage (again, apologies, I had a slightly bigger thing on my mind that next week) is that on Monday NASCAR announced children under the age of 12 will be admitted free to all NASCAR Camping World Truck and Xfinity Series races starting in 2017.
|NASCAR fans are awesome|
NASCAR fans are an eclectic group of folks (despite all the stereotypes you may hear), but one thing they aren’t doing is getting younger. NASCAR made an awesome move on Monday to allow fans to bring their young children to the track for free because, as anyone who has attended a NASCAR race can tell you, the best way to experience the sport and get hooked on it, is by attending the event live.
“There really is no other experience like attending a NASCAR race in person, and that's especially true for kids,” said Jill Gregory, NASCAR senior vice president and chief marketing officer, in a release from NASCAR. “So many children become lifelong NASCAR fans because their parents brought them to their first race, and this new ticket offering makes it even more affordable for families to create memories that will last a lifetime.”
Twenty years ago my dad paid for a ticket for his seven-year-old son to go to the third running of the Brickyard 400 with him. Now, it’s worth noting even under the new ticket deal that Cup races wouldn’t be free admission for kids, but, perhaps some local fans would take their kids to any number of close tracks for Xfinity Series races or Camping World Truck action if they get in for free.
Twenty years later my dad and I attended the Brickyard 400 in a different fashion than we did in 1996, but we still enjoyed our time together. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been to as many races as I have in the media capacity that I currently occupy.
Perhaps in 20 more years there will be more storylines and more happiness to share. It’s hard to believe that after 20 years we’re still making this journey, but there’s nowhere on this earth I would rather be on Brickyard 400 weekend than up in Speedway, Ind. with my dad.